Sunday, September 5, 2010

Interview with Editor Emma D. Dryden

Emma D. Dryden has edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers. As a publisher, she oversaw a staff that ranged between six and eleven editors and the annual publication of over one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. During her tenure with Atheneum and McElderry Books, the books she edited consistently garnered starred reviews, were named to year-end “best of” lists, received regional and national publicity and acclaim, and have hit the bestseller lists in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and other national publications. Emma is a native New Yorker and when she’s not editing, she’s also doing some writing of her own. 



Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?

One of my favorite quotations is the last three lines from the poem “Lilacs in September” by Katha Pollitt: 

“What will unleash / itself in you / when your storm comes?”

As we go about our living our lives—forging and managing relationships, raising kids, holding down jobs, running errands, going on vacation, getting the car fixed, writing books, and everything else in between—we can so often become complacent and comfortable with all that we have or do. It’s all good. But then, suddenly, something unexpected happens that shakes us to our core—illness strikes, we move into a new home, we experience a death of a loved one, we fight with a friend, we get laid off from a job—and this sets off a storm inside of us, a storm for which we weren’t prepared. And it’s what gets unleashed during this storm that I find so compelling, because through the grief, fear, and rage can come some of the most potent and exciting creativity, artistic expression, and determination to move forward. Just as a ferocious forest fire results in extraordinary new growth of seedlings, so too can our own storms result in important new growth within ourselves, forcing us to try things we never thought we would.

You have edited so many books that have gone on to win prestigious awards and that constantly become New York Times Bestsellers, WOW! I applaud you for having such a phenomenal eye! If you could be one character out of all the books you’ve edited, who would it be and why?

That’s a great question and a hard one to answer. In pondering this question, I realize that I do put myself into the shoes of each of the characters in the books I edit in order to try to experience the world through their own senses. I think some of the characters in the teen novels I have edited have it too tough and I don’t know how much I’d like to really be them; I already lived through my own teenage years and am not up to living through those years ago! On the other hand, I think I’d love to be Hare in Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON picture books—Hare’s the sort of steadfast, true, sensible friend I’d like to be to people. Or Fred, the young girl in Kirkpatrick Hill’s YEAR OF MISS AGNES, whose eyes are opened to the world and to herself by a very special teacher—it would be marvelous to be so open again, to be so innocent to the world and be amazed and excited by everything someone teaches you that you never even knew existed in the world.

Recently, you started your own editorial business and it has already been getting a ton of great attention in the publishing world! What encouraged you to begin your own company and take that leap of faith?

Being laid off from Simon & Schuster after having been there for 19 years was an extraordinary experience. One thing it taught me is that there is no guarantee for anyone’s security in the current economic environment. There being few to no jobs available for someone with my skill sets, background, and salary requirements, I launched drydenbks not because I wanted to, but because I had to—to make a living doing what I do best, which is editing children’s books. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I started the company, but I counted on the fact that I have a remarkably strong support system within the children’s book industry and the fact that I have retained close professional and personal relationships forged during my many years at Simon & Schuster to provide whatever ballast I might need to keep drydenbks afloat—and it’s working so far. I am busier than I ever expected I’d be.

You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most to writers and artists?

Honestly, probably the two pieces of advice I’ve shared more often than anything else with most of the authors with whom I’ve worked or with whom I’ve consulted are:

(1) Read, read, read! Reading all sorts of books that are being published for young readers is a way to hone a writer and illustrator’s own skills, it can help them determine what they like and don’t like about a book and think about how they might do something differently, and it will give them some understanding of the marketplace. 

(2) Show, don’t tell! The challenge for most authors is to engage a reader by enabling them to feel what a character is feeling and sensing without actually telling us what the character is feeling and sensing. Through actions and dialogue, a character’s emotions and senses can be expressed in ways that will resonate with readers, but it’s often very hard to do and takes practice.

In light of the current marketplace and in light of all that’s going on in the digital space that’s having an effect on the publishing industry, I would advise authors and illustrators to listen, learn, stay engaged, and stay flexible.

You’re known for editing a lot of poetry over the course of your career. So many people are afraid to work with poetry; what about poetry appeals to you and why?

I have always loved listening to and reading poetry—the cadence and music of poetry when it’s read aloud can be soothing, entertaining, provocative and thoroughly engaging. The story of a poem is something I find remarkable—every poem (including certain picture book texts as well as poems that comprise novels in verse) is in itself a highly condensed, tightly crafted story that relies solely on showing, rather than telling. Next to nothing is told, but such vast amounts can be shown through image, word choice, rhythm, metaphor, and indeed through the white spaces—the pauses and space between words, lines, thoughts. I love writing poetry—for me, it’s the most challenging kind of writing to do because it’s about paying attention to form as much as expressing a lot with so little—and I love editing poetry for the same reason.

When you are having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?

I ask myself questions about the characters in the story—what would they say? What would they feel? What would they do? I look to the characters’ motivations and emotions to drive the story forward, to set up and resolve the drama. One author with whom I’m working conducts interviews with his characters and writes down the questions and answers—I think this is a terrific way to bring a story to life. Sometimes I turn narrative into dialogue, to give more of a personal voice and immediacy to a story. Sometimes I try a different perspective in which to tell the story—first person to third person or third to first.

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Enthusiastic.

Thank you Emma for this interview! You're a beautiful writer and I love your philosophy on life and writing.  Your knowledge is priceless for so many and I am so happy to have pulled more of it from you in this interview!


If you would like to find out more about Emma D. Dryden, you can visit her magnificent website, follow her on Twitter, or become a frequent visitor to her blog.

3 comments:

  1. Great interview! I love the notion that poetry is about white space ... it very much is, but I've never thought about it in quite that way.
    It's like that Thelonius Monk quote about the pauses being as important as the notes in jazz.
    Thanks!

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  2. Thanks Michele! Beautifully written :) xo

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  3. Some great comments from Facebook...

    Gail Goetz - Emma's knowledge and insight are astounding. I felt safe when she was working with me. I knew she wouldn't coddle me. Because of her integrity, she wouldn't overlook my writing flaws, and the flaws in my novel, but she would point them out in the clearest, kindest way possible. And that's what she did.

    Mark McVeigh - There isn't anyone like Emma. We're lucky to have her. : )

    Joan Waites - Terrific interview Emma!

    Anne Rockwell - Great questions and great answers.

    Thank you for all the beautiful comments everyone and for stopping by!!

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